Sociocracy for One

You can implement sociocracy whether you are in a sociocratic organization or not. Organizations are composed of individuals, each of whom is responsible for creating an effective environment. By demonstrating that sociocratic practices result in more collaborative and inclusive groups, you also increase the possibility that sociocratic principles will be successfully implemented in your organization.

These small changes can make a big difference.
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Sharon Villines,  2014

1.  Expect Consent

Function as if consent is already the standard in decision-making.

When a decision is about to be made, before anyone can call for a vote or declare agreement, ask if there are any objections. If possible, glance at each person as an invitation to speak. If someone tries to dismiss concerns, say, “Let’s look at this for a moment.” Then help address concerns and clarify objections. Ask if anyone else can address them.

When unresolved objections remain, emphasize that a decision has not been made. Most small groups function by consent most of the time. With only one objection, however, they may avoid announcing a formal decision and then proceed as if one had been made. Break this cycle and state clearly, “Let’s not implement this until we have enough information to resolve this objection.”

2.  Initiate Rounds

Instead of waiting for open discussion, begin rounds by asking, “What does everyone think? Mary?” and move around the room to each person.

Doing rounds can completely change the dynamic of a group because rounds:

  •  Establish equality in the room as each person is given time to speak
  • Bring out comments from those who dislike competing for attention  or feel their ideas are not important
  • Prevent people from avoiding responsibility by being silent
  • Enable everyone to avoid dominating the discussion

3.  Double-Link

Suggest that two people with differing styles or opinions represent your group when approaching an authority or attending a meeting.

When two people represent a group as equals the process of representation is more likely to result in:

  • A shift  from personal opinion or benefit to collaboration and consultation on behalf of the group
  • Consultation in a search for solutions rather than an autocratic decision
  • Less likelihood of being co-opted with two listening
  • More information being conveyed in both directions with the experience and training of two people present

4.  Assign Tasks Using Discussion and Consent

Before anyone can volunteer, ask what the task or function requires and then directly ask one person who they think could fulfill those requirements. Convey the expectation that there will be more than one qualified person.

A volunteer may not be the best person for the job and the person who is may not volunteer.  People often recognize abilities in others that others don’t see in themselves.

Self nominations are acceptable as long as they don’t preclude discussion  of other possible candidates or consider the ability to fulfill the task requirements. One ability, however, is the desire to fulfill the task!

5.  Actively Solicit Objections

After presenting an idea, welcome objections by asking, “Now how is this going to work? What’s wrong with it? Let’s make it better and get all the chinks out now.”

Resolving objections builds a stronger proposal. Don’t allow concerns and objections to slide away. Taking them seriously builds the commitment and focus necessary for collaborative decision-making and effective action. Even when an objection cannot be resolved, if it is thoroughly understood, everyone may be more willing to move forward and test the decision.

6.  Resolve Objections in the Group, Not with an Individual

Treat the objection as an issue the group needs to resolve, not to convince only the objector. Treat objections as information, not as attempts to derail forward movement.

After the objection is clearly understood, address the objection in terms of the aim of the decision and the aim of the group. How does it affect the decision? How can the proposed decision be improved to resolve this objection?  Then do a round asking the objector last if their objection has been addressed. If it hasn’t, use other means to resolve it. (See “Resolving Concerns & Objections.”)

7.  Measure & Report

Build measurements into your decisions so you will know how they are working. Set a date for reporting and evaluating.

How will I know if this is working? When do I take a second look? How will I measure success? This doesn’t have to be complicated. Match measurement to the complexity of the decision. For personal decisions, it may be as simple as putting a mark on the calendar setting a date to remind yourself to consider how you feel about your decision. For complex tasks with financial repercussions, more data gathering will probably be necessary.

If no one else is assigned or the group doesn’t want to n to this, take initiative in recording and making the results available to everyone concerned — transparency builds trust and  more information may be brought forward.

8.  Encourage Self-Organization

Take control of your own responsibilities so you find solutions and grow personally and professionally. Ask questions of yourself and others that expect people to find their own answers, to be self-organizing and self-generating, producing organization and new ideas.

Self-organization is often discouraged in workplaces but there are usually small areas of responsibility and independence where you can take initiative, and often they are larger than you might think.

There may more freedom to self-organize in your personal life. A mother with four high-energy children and a husband who worked twelve hours a day woke up an hour earlier than the family  to organize her day over a quiet breakfast. She took charge and generated a harmonious home by organizing the things she could control.

9.  Self Education

Take responsibility for your own development, continuing to learn about life, about your work, and about your organization.

Keep up with your industry and develop beyond your job or responsibility. Define your professional and personal goals broadly, not just in terms of your  job or neighborhood norms. If you work on a loading dock, find out how other organizations handle late shipments and transient employees. Watch changes in your company to understand the possible need for change. Design educational programs that reduce emergencies and increase productivity. Bring your colleagues along with you.

Develop your social and professional networks. Follow your dreams. This will create an environment of growth—not necessarily bigger, but deeper.

Sharon Villines is the author of thousands of blog posts and emails on sociocracy and cohousing, owner of Sociocracy.info, and coauthor with John Buck of We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy, a Guide to Sociocratic Principles and Methods (Washington, DC: Sociocracy.info Press, 2007). For more information visit Sociocracy.info

Sociocracy for One is based on a document written in 2008 by Sharon Villines for the Sociocracy.info website titled “Sociocracy for the Individual.” Revised,  9 April 2014.

Creative Commons License
Sociocracy for One by Sharon Villines is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on a work at Sociocracy.info.

Sociocracy for one may be printed for personal, non-commercial uses and incorporated in or adapted for educational materials as long as the authorship and source is included in the text, and the educational materials are also shared under the same Creative Commons license.

10 thoughts on “Sociocracy for One”

  1. In terms of similar ideas that may have useful cross-fertilization, let me toss in two more that I’m familiar with. I certainly support all of the ideas mentioned above, but I’d suggest there is an additional component that should be considered as a requirement of all of those processes actually working in a sustainable way.

    The Baha’i Faith has been using consultation principles quite similar to these for the last 100 years.

    Link: http://www.uga.edu/bahai/consultat.html

    I think one significant difference is the stress by the Baha’is on the impact of the decision-making process on the unity of the group, which is considered MORE important than any particular decision, in the long run.

    Regardless, the “decision-making” process is viewed by Baha’is as a spiritual activity, which works better when the entire group shares an uplifting and critical long-term mission and goal that can be appealed to in overriding individual short-term interests of individuals.

    In other terms, Baha’i-inspired meetings would basically begin “I love you, I care about you, I care about your future, I want us to leave this room being even closer to each other than we are as we enter. Now, what were we going to discuss?”

    Again, the activity is not viewed as a “cognitive” activity involving “information” but as an explicitly spiritual activity involving cohesion and unity as the central core. The purpose of consultation is to achieve greater understanding of and sympathy with EACH OTHER, not of “the data” or “the problem”.

    Another source of information that readers might find interesting is the teachings by Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson on “psychological safety” and the functioning of teams — and along with that, a critique of why “meetings” at “workplaces” are generally a waste of time or worse.

    http://hbswk.hbs.edu/faculty/aedmondson.html

    I used to work at Parke-Davis, a “Theory X” organization of top-down power and high competitiveness, where meetings were jokingly considered “The acceptable alternative to work.” The spirit was so bad that even the human resources consultants were stunned when our score on tests where we could “consult” each other on answers turned out to be worse than the worst individual score on the test.

    In short, I’m suggesting that there are a collection of habitual behaviors and attitudes (“virtues”) that are part and parcel of successful group decision making and subsequent action-taking based on that, to develop the “adaptive loop” of being aware of the environment, taking action, and assessing the results of that action to fine tune later action and to improve the process.

    I highly suggest looking at the wonderful slides and music in this short link,
    http://www.pathways-to-peace.com/

    and particularly reflecting on the one idea quoted within it, attributed to Ezra Taft-Benson:
    “Pride is concerned with who is right. Humility is concerned with what is right.”

    I have to admit that I finally decided to leave an organization once when we started arguing about the role of emotion in the workplace. Their thought was that emotion had no role there, and everything should be “businesslike” by which they meant that the underlying and inherent anger and violence and pain should be as suppressed as possible, talking only about “the data”. In the short run, this avoided fist fights, but in the long run it is destroying the company by destroying the human spirit that lets people overcome pain and obstacles.

    Instead, I think meetings and the workplace need to be filled with human emotion and passion, but good emotions, not bad ones. Then you can release innovation, creativity, and get to the volunteering stage of energy captured in the Boy’s Town motto: “He’s not heavy father — he’s my brother.”

    Process is good, and having a process with some guidelines is important. Virtues such as civility, respect, honesty, integrity, and compassion are also required for that process to actually work. And virtues like that are sustainable, but only if everyone holds each other accountable for sustaining them.

    Then, I think, it not only can work, it does work, in a sustainable way, releasing huge creative, problem-solving, and high-performance, high-energy solutions to whatever ails ya.

    “Peace” is more than stopping the visible fighting — it’s creating an environment where underlying hard emotional issues can be raised, and dealt with, and solved with a joyous and successful outcome.

    W.

    1. Do you have a connection with sociocracy in a French speaking country? They were translated into Spanish a number of years ago but since I wasn’t able to confirm the accuracy of the translation, I didn’t post them.

  2. Thank you. This is a lovely statement of consent decision-making as it is used in many religious organizations. It was used by Kees Boeke this way in his school, he first operational sociocracy. The problem with this method is in a business setting where people are not hired or expected to love each other. The aims are different. The religious community’s aim is to love each other and to create a singular loving community. In business the aim may be the production of widgets or services for the homeless. The aim is the production of a tangible product or service that can be measured. What sociocracy is designed to do is to bring harmony to the workplace in order that happy people will be more focused on task and make the best decisions possible of their own work and the work of the organization.

    In a religious organization the aim is the similar, but the emphasis is different. The group is the aim. In business, the aim is usually external: the needs of the client and to achieve those working with people who are experts, not converts.

  3. A great contribution to getting started with sociocracy. Thanks Sharon. If you would like a review of the Spanish translation, I can help (B.A. in Spanish, teacher, lived in South America)and also could enlist the help of native speakers who are friends.

    I very much appreciate Wade’s contribution. As devotees know, the central aim for religious organizations is not just to build the unity of congregants, but to build the unity of all humanity by caring deeply for the physical, emotional, intellectual and economic health of our fellow travelers. That’s my sense of it, though it’s not always something to let on.

  4. Translations and offers to translate are overwhelming me. I’m now involved in revising the first edition and don’t have time to figure out the complexities of translations. We have requests in German, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. I will be consulting a literary lawyer about this as soon as the revision is done. It will be several more months.

  5. Whoops! I just noticed this was on Sociocracy for One and not related to the book. I don’t have the translation or I would welcome a review. I’ve lost touch with the translator.

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